Critics' Pick

Caucus (NR)

Documentary 104 November 8, 2013
By Alan Scherstuhl
Despite the presence of some Occupy agitators, nobody shouts "This is what democracy looks like!" in the irresistible politicians-meet-the-people documentary Caucus, probably because to do so would be to risk inviting despair. AJ Schnack's film follows one of the great humiliations of American life: the slow, soiling ritual of presidential hopefuls pressing the flesh in preparation for the Iowa Caucus — and often discovering that much of that flesh has already been pressed, persuasively, by some other candidate. "If you change your mind, we'd love your help," we see Rick Santorum tell a Michele Bachmann supporter, one of the 15 folks who bothered to schlub into a Days Inn to hear Santorum speak with just days left before the 2012 caucus. Facing a similar situation, Bachmann's husband, the jolly and theatrical Marcus, somehow charms a fellow into a thumb-wrestling match, all while candidate Michele, just feet away, declaims her plans to the smallish crowd: building a wall with Mexico, abolishing the tax code, shuttering multiple government agencies. The film's subject determines the form: This is a gently dispirited farce, a spectacle of also-rans and why-did-they-runs desperate to prove their fealty to every qualm and misapprehension of one small slice of an already homogenous population. It's lively, hilarious, upsetting, and at times revelatory, especially in a long scene of Romney awkwardly engaging rural Iowans in a town-hall setting. The candidate gets asked about whether this is now a nation of "givers" and "takers." Romney responds with the same boilerplate answer that would ensure his loss in November: There's 47 percent of us who just don't contribute -- quite unlike the good people of Iowa, of course.
AJ Schnack AJ Schnack, Nathan Truesdell Bonfire Films


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